Senate panel to hold hearing on net neutrality

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing later this month on potential regulations on Internet service providers.

“Open Internet rules are the Bill of Rights for the online world,” committee Chairman Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyProtecting the right to counsel in immigration court Dems urge Obama to release info on Russian links to DNC hack Top senators want details on probe of DNC breach MORE (D-Vt.) said in a statement, referring to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) formal name for rules on net neutrality — the notion that companies like Comcast or Cox should not be able to slow or block users’ access to a particular website.

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“It is crucial that rules are put in place to protect consumers, online innovators, and free speech,” Leahy added. “I look forward to hearing from a wide range of stakeholders who can speak firsthand about the impact the FCC's decision will have on the Internet landscape.”

The hearing will take place on Sept. 17. 

Witnesses have not been announced, but Leahy has been a supporter of strong regulations so the panel could turn to public interest advocates and tech company executives that have argued in favor of tough rules.

Leahy previously wrote a bill with Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) that would force the FCC to ban agreements between Internet service companies and individual websites — known as paid prioritization deals — which critics say would lead to “fast lanes” for companies with deep pockets and slower service across the rest of the Internet.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal would seem to allow those deals so long as they were “commercially reasonable,” which has raised the specter of a two-tiered Internet and caused a public outcry about the plan.

Internet service providers have warned that harsh regulations are unnecessary and could undermine the current nature of the Internet.

Leahy held a field hearing on the issue in Vermont earlier this summer.